“The green grass dries up, the blossom withers, but the word of our God endures forever.”—ISA. 40:8.
1, 2. (a) What would life be like without the Bible? (b) We can benefit from God’s Word especially if what is true?
CAN you imagine what your life would be like without the Bible? You would have no reliable advice for day-to-day living. You would not have satisfying answers to questions about God, life, and the future. And you would not know of Jehovah’s past dealings with the human family.
2 Thankfully, we do not face such a bleak situation. Jehovah has provided us with his Word, the Bible. And he has guaranteed that its message will endure forever. The apostle Peter quoted Isaiah 40:8. That verse does not specifically refer to the Bible as we know it; yet, the inspired words apply by extension to the Bible’s message. (Read 1 Peter 1:24, 25.) Of course, we can benefit from the Bible particularly if it is available in a language that we understand well. Those who love God’s Word have long recognized that fact. Although it has not always been easy, over the centuries sincere individuals have persevered in translating and distributing the Scriptures. Their desire was in harmony with God’s will that “all sorts of people should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.”—1 Tim. 2:3, 4.
3. What will we consider in this article? (See opening picture.)
3 In this article, we will consider examples of how God’s Word has endured (1) changes in language, (2) political developments that influenced the lingua franca, or common language, and (3) opposition to Bible translation. How will we benefit from this review? It will deepen our appreciation for God’s Word. It will also deepen our love for the Author of the Bible, who provided it for our benefit.—Mic. 4:2; Rom. 15:4.
CHANGES IN LANGUAGE
4. (a) How do languages change over time? (b) What shows that our God is not partial toward any language group, and how does that make you feel?
4 Over time, languages tend to change. Words and expressions may come to mean something completely different. Perhaps you can think of examples of how a language that you speak has changed. The same is true of Hebrew and Greek, the languages that most of the Bible was written in. Modern Hebrew and Greek are quite different from those languages back in Bible times. So virtually everyone who wants to understand God’s Word must read a translation of it—even those who know modern-day Hebrew or Greek. Some have felt that they should learn ancient Hebrew and Greek so that they could read the Bible in the original languages. That, however, may not be as profitable as they imagine.* Thankfully, the Bible or portions of it have now been translated into nearly 3,000 languages. Clearly, Jehovah wants people of “every nation and tribe and language” to have the opportunity to benefit from his Word. (Read Revelation 14:6, footnote.) Does that not draw you even closer to our loving and impartial God?—Acts 10:34.
5. What made the King James Version significant?
5 The reality that languages change over time also applies to the languages into which the Bible has been translated. A Bible translation that was easily understood when first produced may later become less effective. Consider an example involving a Bible translation into English. The King James Version was first produced in 1611. It became one of the most popular English Bibles, and it would come to have a significant impact on the English language.* Notably, the King James Version drew only limited attention to God’s name. It used “Jehovah” in a few verses, and it used the word “LORD” in capital letters in other verses in the Hebrew Scriptures where the divine name originally occurred. Later printings also used the word “LORD” in capital letters in some verses in the Christian Greek Scriptures. In that sense, the King James Version acknowledged the rightful place of God’s name in the so-called New Testament.
6. Why are we grateful for the New World Translation?
6 Even so, much of the wording in the King James Version became archaic over the centuries. The same is true of early Bible translations in other languages. Are we not grateful, then, to have the modern-language New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures? This translation is available in whole or in part in over 150 languages, thus being available to a vast part of the population today. Its clear wording allows the message of God’s Word to reach our heart. (Ps. 119:97) Significantly, the New World Translation restores God’s name to its rightful place in the Scriptures.
7, 8. (a) Why were many Jews in the third century B.C.E. unable to understand the Hebrew Scriptures? (b) What is the Greek Septuagint?
7 Political developments have sometimes influenced which language was the lingua franca, or common language, at any given time. How has God seen to it that such developments do not make his Word unclear to people? An example from the past helps us to find the answer. The first 39 books of the Bible were written by Israelites, or the Jews. They were the people initially “entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.” (Rom. 3:1, 2) However, by the third century B.C.E., many Jews no longer understood Hebrew. Why not? Because Alexander the Great had expanded the Grecian Empire by means of his conquests. (Dan. 8:5-7, 20, 21) As that empire spread, Greek became the common language of many of its subjects, including Jews who were scattered over a vast area. But as many Jews became Greek-speaking, understanding the Hebrew Scriptures became more difficult for most. What was the solution?
8 About the middle of the third century B.C.E., the first five books of the Bible were translated from Hebrew into Greek. Translation of the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures was completed in the second century B.C.E. The resulting collection of Bible books came to be known as the Greek Septuagint. The Septuagint is the first known written translation of the entire Hebrew Scriptures.
9. (a) How did the Septuagint and other early translations affect readers of God’s Word? (b) What is your favorite portion of the Hebrew Scriptures?
9 The Septuagint did much to make the Hebrew Scriptures readable to Greek-speaking Jews and others. Just think how thrilling it must have been for them to hear or read God’s Word in what had become their mother tongue! In time, portions of the Bible were translated into other common languages, such as Syriac, Gothic, and Latin. As readers considered the Holy Writings in a language they could understand, no doubt many came to have a favorite portion, just as we do today. (Read Psalm 119:162-165.) Indeed, God’s Word has continued to endure despite changes to the common language.
OPPOSITION TO BIBLE TRANSLATION
10. Why did most people have virtually no access to the Bible in John Wycliffe’s time?
10 At times, very powerful forces have tried to keep the Bible from the common people. However, sincere individuals have stood up to such opposition. For example, consider a 14th-century theologian named John Wycliffe. He strongly believed that everyone should be able to benefit from God’s Word. But in his time, the common people in England had virtually no access to the Bible. Why not? For one thing, most could not afford to own a Bible, as copies were handwritten and very expensive to produce. Moreover, the majority of people were illiterate. Of course, they may have heard passages read when they went to church. It is doubtful, though, that they would have understood what they heard. Why? Because the official Church Bible (the Vulgate) was written in Latin. Yet, in the Middle Ages, Latin was essentially a dead language among the common people! How would the Bible’s precious treasures be unlocked for them?—Prov. 2:1-5.
11. What was the impact of the Wycliffe Bible?
11 In 1382, the English translation later known as the Wycliffe Bible was produced. It quickly gained popularity among followers of Wycliffe. Desiring to get God’s Word into the mind and heart of ordinary people, itinerant preachers, known as the Lollards, traveled on foot from village to village throughout England. Often the Lollards read portions of the Wycliffe Bible to those whom they met, and they left handwritten copies behind. Their efforts marked a real turning point, sparking a renewed interest in God’s Word among the people.
12. How did the clergy react to Wycliffe and his movement?
12 What was the reaction of the clergy? They showed hatred for Wycliffe, his Bible, and his followers. The religious authorities persecuted the Lollards and hunted down and destroyed as many copies of the Wycliffe Bible as they could find. Even after his death, Wycliffe was declared a heretic. Of course, it was not possible to punish someone who was no longer alive. Still, the clergy had Wycliffe’s bones exhumed and burned and the ashes thrown into the river Swift. But the Church was unable to halt the momentum of God’s Word among those who desired to read and understand it. In the centuries that followed, many in Europe and other parts of the world began to promote translation and distribution of the Bible for the benefit of the common people.
“THE ONE TEACHING YOU TO BENEFIT YOURSELF”
13. Of what are we convinced, and how does this strengthen our faith?
13 Christians today need not think that the work of translating the Septuagint, Wycliffe’s Bible, the King James Version, or any other translation was inspired by God. Nevertheless, when we review the history of these and many other translations that have been published, it gives support to this fact: Just as Jehovah promised, his Word has endured. Does that not strengthen your faith that all the other promises Jehovah has made will likewise come true?—Josh. 23:14.
14. How does God’s Word deepen our love for him?
14 Besides strengthening our faith, reviewing how the Bible has endured through the ages deepens our love for Jehovah.* After all, why did he provide his Word in the first place? And why did he guarantee that it would survive? Because he loves us, and he wants to teach us how to benefit ourselves. (Read Isaiah 48:17, 18.) Naturally, it is fitting that we respond to Jehovah’s love by loving him in return and by obeying his commandments.—1 John 4:19; 5:3.
15. What will we consider in the following article?
15 It is only sensible to conclude that because we appreciate God’s Word, we will want to derive full benefit from it. How can we get the most out of our personal Bible reading? What can help us to direct attention to the Bible in the ministry? How can those who teach from the platform make the Scriptures the focus of their teaching? We will consider the answers to those questions in the next article.
See the article “Do You Need to Learn Hebrew and Greek?” in the November 1, 2009, issue of The Watchtower.
A number of English idioms can be traced back to the King James Version. Examples include: “fell flat on his face,” “the skin of my teeth,” and “pour out your heart.”—Num. 22:31; Job 19:20; Ps. 62:8.
Note the box “See It for Yourself!”